Copywriting: Defending copy against the cruellest cuts - Bright Blue Day
Opinion

Copywriting: Defending copy against the cruellest cuts

Copy amends are inevitable. It’s all part of the creative process. But how you deal with those amends can make or break copy. I recently ran a session on ‘How to win at copy amends’ because defending copy against the ravages of amends is important. There’s one thing worth than ‘death’ by a thousand cuts, and that’s ‘mediocrity’. I’m not prepared to see forgettably average copy stumble into the wide world, a limping shadow of what it could have been.

In the spirit of arming everyone with the power to protect copy through the amends/development process, here’s a round up of the key points of this session.

Vague feedback is a losing game 

“I’m just not sure about this para. Can you try something else?” This is the type of vague feedback that every copywriter dreads – no indication of what’s wrong or what direction  you’re supposed to take. You can guess, but if you get it wrong you waste time and test the client’s patience (as well as burn through the budget). At bbd, we appreciate it’s not always easy for our clients to explain why copy isn’t right. So, we like to work with them to pin down what’s actually wrong with the copy. Then agency and client can move forward with a shared understanding of where the copy should go. (Oh, and a small aside – even clear feedback can decimate copy, but we’ll come back to this.)

What exactly is wrong with it?

This is the question that we need to answer to get past ‘It isn’t quite right’ and move to ‘This is what we need to fix and why’. There are six things that might be wrong with copy. And these are the checkpoints we interrogate when figuring out what’s not right. 

1 It’s off brand

Copy isn’t written in the brand voice. Or is only 75% on brand. This is a classic cause of ‘not-quite-rightness’. To make a judgement, read the brand guidelines, the website and other pieces of work, and compare. Get a second opinion from a colleague who knows the brand. Table the ‘on brand?’ question to the copywriter. What’s the verdict? If the copy IS on brand, it could be that…

2 It’s off brief

This means the copy doesn’t respect the proposition or storytelling journey. It’s a big-picture problem. This is an issue that’s likely to surface near the start of a project, maybe at first draft stage. It can happen when the copywriter is given so much unassimilated info that they take the wrong parts to use. 

3 It’s off message

The copy is generally on brief, but there are key areas where the copy focuses on the wrong things. Think of it like this. You’ve been briefed to build a kitchen, but there’s a toilet in the corner by the fridge. Usually, these are the easiest amends to spot and fix. If you’re repeatedly seeing lots of these amends, check on the quality and clarity of the info/brief that’s reaching your copywriter. However, if the info and direction is good, check your copywriter.

4 It’s off concept

Conceptual work is where we have a unifying theme across visuals and copy. And the copy is just as critical as the visual when expressing the concept. There are two types of feedback you’re likely to get on conceptual copy. One – the copy doesn’t do enough to refer to the concept. In which case, the copywriter needs to have another run at it. Two – the amends strip out all of the conceptual copy. If you don’t spot this and make the amends, you’ve just sent a wrecking ball through the middle of the concept. This is why copy amends on conceptual work should always go back to the original copywriter. They’ll spot this issue. Then there can be a chat between agency and client to explain that copy can’t change or to find a non-destructive compromise.

5 It’s the wrong balance of rational/emotional

Where copy should sit on the R/E scale depends on the brief, brand and message. Usually, it’s a blend and a balance. If you get feedback that the copy isn’t quite right, it’s worth considering this scale. Does it need more emotive language? Or perhaps an injection of cool logic?

6 – It’s off stylistically

Reading badly written copy feels like riding a bike with square wheels over potholes. There’s no flow. Perhaps it feels like 3 different people wrote it. There might be 75-word sentences that drag down the pace. This can happen when chunks of copy are deleted, inserted or reordered. You can’t just push it all back together and expect it to read well. Amends need to be overseen by a copywriter. It’s quality control.

Everyone wins when the right amends are made

Testing copy feedback against these six checkpoints always highlights the real issue, giving the writer clarity and direction. The right amends are made. The copy stays strong. And everyone wins – the client, the copywriter, client services and, crucially, the copy. 

Sarah Compton, senior copywriter